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Escape rooms are growing in popularity.  In Orlando alone, there are dozens of games to choose from.  They offer a wide variety of themes and challenges, each one looking to become the greatest around.  The question is, what is it that makes a game the greatest?  There are many elements to an escape room that can make or break the experience.  We’ve gone over our favorite rooms to see what details help them stand out above the rest.

A rope runs the length of the dungeon wall from cell to cell.
A rope runs the length of the dungeon wall from cell to cell.

Set design is the first thing players will see in an escape room.  When walking into a room, they’ll look around and study the layout and decorations for clues.  Some of the greatest escape rooms are able to pull players into the game world with immersive sets.  Having a unique theme can be a real benefit here; many escape rooms have themes that are similar to other rooms so it will immediately catch a player’s attention.  However, even rooms with similar themes can stand apart with their sets.  Well-matched colors, detailed props, and the right furniture lend themselves well to a cohesive design.  A good design can turn a sterile room into a believable living space or ancient temple. Walking into a well-designed room elevates the experience from the very start.

A typewriter, a pipe, books, a newspaper and a magnifying glass on top of Sherlock's desk.
A typewriter, a pipe, books, a newspaper and a magnifying glass on top of Sherlock’s desk.

The story is another way to make a room great.  This doesn’t just mean having a unique backstory.  A great room weaves the story into the game, not distracting from the puzzles but adding to them.  The story can be revealed through the set as well.  A living room’s furniture and decorations can reveal hints of a character’s personality.  Scattered clothes and bottles could show a messy lifestyle.  Neatly organized books and notes could show a tidy, detailed individual.  Old journals and newspapers can offer puzzle clues as well as backstory.  In a dungeon, scratch marks from people trying to escape, or old bones from long-dead prisoners, add history without having to say anything.  Details like these can reveal the story while also making the setting feel alive.

The players attempt to piece together the puzzle.
The players attempt to piece together the puzzle.

Of course, the set and story alone don’t make for the greatest escape rooms.  Even the best story will fall flat if the game itself isn’t fun to play, and one of the biggest aspects of gameplay is the flow of the game.  Solving one puzzle only to be stuck on where to go next is frustrating.  The greatest games have a natural flow from one puzzle to the next.  Progression makes sense and it’s satisfying to see the solutions come together.  Some rooms are more challenging than others, but that doesn’t mean that harder rooms are worse.  Rooms with more difficult puzzles still have a good flow to them because the puzzles all make sense within the game.  If the players have a chance to hit their stride, rooms of any difficulty can stand among the best.

A photograph of a SD2000 device being held to contact spirits in Fright Before Your Eyes.
The SD2000 device being held to contact spirits in Fright Before Your Eyes.

One more element found in some of the best escape rooms is something that adds an extra splash of excitement to really wow the players.  It could be anything, like a dramatic finale spectacle, a remarkable and unexpected part of the set, or a big reveal that changes how the story is perceived.  The detail could even be part of a puzzle that requires a markedly unique approach to solve.  Whatever form it takes, this “wow” element is something that players will be talking about long after they finish the games.


Any one or two of these elements can make a game stand out as great.  It’s when you put all of these elements together that you get a remarkable experience: a story that unfolds within an immersive set, with gameplay that flows naturally to the end.  A game like that would easily be considered one of the greatest escape rooms.

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